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Aviation Pioneer Attending Obama Inauguration


When Barack Obama takes the oath of office Tuesday, January 20th to become the first African-American U.S. president, an aviation pioneer will be watching.

Washington, D.C. resident Curtis Robinson, one of the nation's first black fighter pilots, will be seated in a place of honor at the event.

While visiting the Smithsonian's National Air Space Museum Udvar Hazy Center, Mr. Curtis shared his history and pride in President-elect Barack Obama.

Three days before the inauguration of the first African American president, another pioneer greets fans at a Smithsonian aviation museum near Washington, DC.

Mr. Robinson, among the first black U.S. combat pilots, says he left the hospital to vote for President-elect Barack Obama in November and nothing will keep him from attending the inauguration.

"Oh, if you see me there, you won't probably know me. I'll have so much clothes on," he chuckled.

Robinson says he notices many young people don't seem to know African American history, which he hopes will change.

Robinson was one of the first so-called Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black unit formed at Tuskegee, Alabama during World War Two. He flew a fighter plane, P-40 Warhawk, into combat at a time many white officers did not believe blacks were smart or skillful enough to fight. But Robinson says his unit gave Hitler's Luftwaffe all it could handle.

"Our firepower was so much greater,” explained Robinson. “The Luftwaffe had two .30 caliber machine guns, one in each wing. And a .30 caliber cannon. But we had three .50 caliber machine guns in each wing. So our firepower was double theirs, so they wouldn't face us."

George Norfleet, who co-wrote Robinson's autobiography, says the Tuskegee Airmen were not just good pilots, they were extraordinary men.

"But I think the key was that these were men who were preparing to be successful in life. And when this opportunity to become pilots came along, they were able to make that transition, not because they were planning to be pilots, but they were simply planning to be successful people," Norfleet tells us.

After the war, Robinson moved to Washington and attended Howard University's school of Pharmacy, graduating in 1952.

Robinson says he opened his own pharmacy because, as a black man, he found it difficult to find work even in the nation's capital. Two years ago, he sold the last of his six pharmacies, which was just blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

Tuesday at the Capitol, Robinson will join other Tuskegee Airmen as they watch Mr. Obama become the first African American to take the oath of office.

Does this pioneer have any advice for the new president? He offered: "It doesn't seem like he needs much advice. He's a very smart man. He is, really, I read his book. He seems to cover practically all fields. He's an exceptionally smart man."

Robinson says he never dreamed he would see an African American president. He hopes the new president can accomplish his dreams as well.


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